Island Blog – This Day

This day I would like to wander through a wood. Looking up at the map of the sky, fragmented by the leaves of the canopy, and then down at the dappled light on the autumn ground, I see my boots, one step at a time. And I love them all over again, for they are my favourites despite the chunk ripped out of one of them by an excited puppy with razor teeth and fast legs for running away. I can see him now with my boot clamped in his jaws, looking back to see if the puffing shouter was keeping up. She wasn’t.

In the wood I look for fairy homes, little round holes in the tree moss and I whisper a hallo. It’s always best not to irate the fairies I find, so a polite acknowledgement of their whereabouts is quite enough. I hear the sound of a wind combing the pines, singing with them, perfect harmony. Beyond the wood the tide rushes in, funnelled through nip-tuck lines of granite and basalt, ancient and immovable. Butter yellow lichen coats the faces of these rocks, as if the sun just landed there for a while, for me to see. Bubble, burble, swish and tumble, the mussels cling on tight. There are hundreds of them and, at low tide, I can slither across the slipper rocks to garner a feast. Wild thyme still blooms, scabious too and the flash of blood shows me where the rowans grow, their shout for attention, their hallo to the sky.

After my wander, I know where I’m going. There is a delightful tapas bar down a skinny side street, tucked in between a second hand shop and someone’s front door. The patron is big and very Spanish and his welcoming warmth greets me as I push through the door. Tables line the wall and tapas dishes, the counter. Bright smiles, a proffered glass of dry white with olives and crusty bread Señora? Si, gracias. I wait for friends to join me, for I am a bit early. As I sit my eyes roam the walls. There is a big painting of the bull run through Pamplona streets, the festival colours bright and full of sunshine. A portrait of the patron’s wife, now deceased, fills a side wall. She is very beautiful and there’s a sass in her eyes. Her hair is tumble free and dark around elegant shoulders. He has spoken of her with me, probably with everyone, for she was his one true love.

After a long and merry lunch, I wander through the streets, watching little gardens pass by. Voices lift in the air around me, ordinary people talking ordinary things. Where did we park? What’s for dinner? Where’s Wally? And yet not one of them is ordinary for we are, each one of us, unique, with our own life to live and our own frustrations, our own dreams. Who will live that dream? Only the brave.

I find my way home. Opening the door I smell the familiar smells and I breathe them in. This is where I live, where I am entirely myself. I may be alone now but I know who I am. Softly I relinquish the ties that bind, hanging them over a chair like a well loved cardigan. I put on some music, Sibelius. The swan of Tuanela was his favourite. Sinking into a chair I watch the day fade into dusk and I am filled with memories and gratitude as the beautiful and evocative melodies flow through the room, through me.

It is good, this day. And all is well.

Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.